Change can be a good thing…sometimes.
It’s hard to beat the satisfaction of trying a new skin-care product and actually seeing results. It’s also hard to shake the temptation of trying a new serum, moisturizer, or whatever else Sephora dropped in your inbox this week.
But, unfortunately, switching your skin-care products too often may slow your progress with any of them.
It takes longer for products to bring on noticeable changes than you might think.
Products you can grab off the shelf may promise to “instantly” brighten dark spots, disguise wrinkles, or relieve redness, but we know from experience that things usually don’t work that immediately.
Depending on the product, “it’s hard to see a lot before eight weeks,” Kendra Bergstrom, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, tells SELF. And that estimate is based on the assumption that you’re consistently using the product at least once a day, she explains, which probably isn’t happening if you regularly swap it out for other things.
Other products may provide a faster benefit, but only temporarily, Mary L. Stevenson, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells SELF—such as undereye products containing caffeine, which are thought to reduce puffiness by affecting the flow of blood in the area (although there isn’t much research into the effects of topical caffeine). So you might actually see results quickly, but they’ll fade quickly, too.
Other treatments, like undereye creams containing vitamin C, take longer to work because they change the way your skin works. In the case of vitamin C, for instance, it’s inhibiting the production of the pigment melanin, which takes more time. In one study, published in 2010 in the International Journal of Dermatology, the researchers only measured the effects of vitamin C and other brightening agents after 12 weeks of administration. In another study, published in 2009 in Skin Research & Technology, researchers only measured participants’ dark undereye circles after six months of treatment.
When it comes to prescription options, we have a better idea of how long they take to work—but it’s even longer than what over-the-counter treatments claim. For example, the research we have on using retinoids—forms of vitamin A used to treat acne and the signs of aging—use specific follow-up points for their participants. Many follow-up assessments are done at 6 to 12 weeks, six months, one year, and two years (or more), “which is profoundly annoying,” Dr. Bergstrom acknowledges. Those longer follow-up times allow us to know more about how the products work over that period of time (“generally speaking, the longer the follow-up, the better,” Dr. Stevenson says), but they don’t tell us much about what to expect in the short term.
Plus, in the case of retinoids, which are known to be irritating at first, people are often advised to start using them just a few days a week. If you’re also switching between a retinoid and other acne products on different days, then you may not see any changes for even longer. In fact, using other acne products alongside a retinoid is usually heavily discouraged. So, just ask your derm when you can expect to see results—and then do your best to be patient and accept that.
Switching between products with the same active ingredients—like switching one salicylic acid cleanser for another—has less of a chance of messing with your progress. But, in general, it’s usually not a great idea to switch things around before they’ve had an honest chance to work.
That said, there are a few times when it makes sense to rethink your regimen.
“If you find something that works well for you, stick with it,” Dr. Stevenson says, but at the same time, it’s good to be open to new technologies and the possibility that there may be something out there that’s better formulated for your skin.
There are also some specific life moments or scenarios that may require you to change things up due to the way they can affect your skin, Dr. Bergstrom says:
The weather changes. Your environment is a big factor in your skin’s health. So if you live somewhere with drastic seasonal shifts or you’ve moved to a new place with a different climate, Dr. Bergstrom says you may find that your old standbys don’t do the job anymore.
You notice chances as you age. As you age, you might find that your skin changes or that products are affecting you in different ways. “We’re little balls of oil when we’re 15 or 16,” Dr. Bergstrom says, and we lose a little bit more of that oil as we continue to age. “The theme is we get drier our whole life,” she says. You might also develop sensitivities to certain products or to the elements.
You’re experiencing a hormonal shift. When you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you may find that some skin-care products are now off-limits to you for safety reasons. But Dr. Bergstrom says you might also notice that your skin needs change. Heading into menopause might change things as well.
You recently took up a new workout routine. Sweating more at the gym, taking up hot yoga, or being exposed to sunlight more often on weekend hikes might necessitate a change in your skin-care routine, Dr. Bergstrom says. You may need to take more care in cleansing and acne prevention if you’re going to be sweating a lot. And being outdoors for long periods of time might mean you’ll need to be more conscious of products in your routine that can increase your sensitivity to the sun (such as retinoids).
Your skin reacts badly to something. If you’re experiencing any unpleasant side effects or sensitivity reactions, it’s important to take a step back and figure out what’s going on and consider switching a product/detergent/etc. that just didn’t mesh well with you when you tried it.
If you’re experiencing any of these situations, it’s a good idea to talk to your dermatologist to figure out what you can do and how to tweak your routine for the time being.
Recognize that introducing a new product to your lineup is something that should be done with care—and time.
Only introduce one new product into your routine at a time, Dr. Stevenson advises. She also suggests giving each product at least two weeks before you introduce another one as a general rule of thumb. And, if you think the product may be irritating your skin, take a step back. Although irritation may be expected initially with some types of products (such as retinoids or AHAs), it’s not necessarily a sign that the product is doing anything good for you. So, check in with a derm for guidance.
Meanwhile, just because a product isn’t doing anything drastic for your skin doesn’t mean you can’t use it—maybe you like the smell or it just makes you feel fancy! As long as it’s not causing any problems, if you like it, that’s a valid reason to use it. “You kind of have to do what works for you, try not to do too many things at once, and also talk to your dermatologist,” Dr. Stevenson says.